But then, with the pandemic wearing on, the Savoy contacted him. The other Savoy Signature hotels would be staying closed due to the lack of tourism, but the Savoy Palace, the chain’s flagship hotel, would remain open. Danchuk’s nomads could help them keep the lights on. The Savoy Palace was theirs. “I couldn’t believe it; it was a crazy development,” Danchuk says. “But part of me was also a bit scared.” With over 100 millennial nomads shacked up in a five-star hotel during a global pandemic, what could go wrong?
Danchuk put out the word on various nomad hubs on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Slack. There were no requirements to get into the Palace—it would be first come, first serve—but a lot of people wanted in: around 1,000 of them for just 168 spots. While Hall’s nomad village Ponta do Sol attracted a younger, less-established crowd drawn to its apartment living and small-town feel, Danchuk’s luxury offering lured what he described as an older, more entrepreneurial group of telehealth doctors, crypto-traders, and start-up founders.
One of the first to arrive, last February, was Lorelie Dijan, a fashionable and fun-loving 33-year-old from the Philippines. Dijan was working as an I.T. project manager for an automotive company in Frankfurt, Germany, when the pandemic hit. When she walked into the Savoy’s chandeliered and gilded reception hall, she couldn’t believe it, she tells me. “It was like, Wow, okay, this is impressive.” And yet it felt so surreal to see it so abandoned, other than a few staff members waiting to greet her. “Practically nobody was there,” she tells me over Zoom from her apartment in Germany in November.
Teemu Tiilikainen, a 32-year-old cofounder of an I.T. consulting business in Finland, and his wife, Sofia Seger, a software engineer, arrived with the hopes of not only finding refuge from COVID but also something that often eludes young professionals: new friends. “At this age, most of your life is going around your work or your hobbies or whatnot,” he says. “I don’t actually make new friends that often. But we all arrived to be together in this bubble.”
Because of COVID, that bubble was real. Nomads had to test negative just to get into Madeira. And due to Madeira’s strict curfew, the Savoyians, as they called themselves, had to remain within the hotel after-hours. Of course, being stuck inside a luxury tower has its perks. The nomads made the Savoy into their own dream dorm. Danchuk describes them as living on room service and hooking up a PlayStation to the TV in the cigar room. They hit the gym, got massages, and downed shots of poncha, the island’s sweet and citrusy signature cocktail, at one of the hotel’s bars, which Danchuk says they persuaded the hotel to leave open 24/7. (The Savoy Palace said that the bars were never open after midnight.)
Using a Slack channel to organise, they began palling around in groups, going from the breakfast buffet to the palm-tree-lined pool and rocky beach. They planned yoga classes, karaoke in the conference rooms, and a self-help ritual called circling, in which they gathered together on the lawn to share thoughts, feelings, and fears. The nomads were designing a new kind of communal living—with room service. “It felt like a tight family after maybe two weeks,” Dijan says, “because every night we would do something; on the weekends we would do something.” They became so tight that hookups, she jokes, “felt like incest.”
“It was surreal to see this whole thing being born in front of my eyes,” Danchuk says. “I was pinching myself to see this community thriving under one roof.” Gone were the days when someone had to be stuck in their own neighbourhood, isolated and alone. With social networks, people could create their own communities anywhere in the world. Now, they could actually move into them. “Nowadays, you can find groups on Facebook which you’ll feel are your tribe, and you can create your own reality,” Danchuk says. The perfect storm of the pandemic, Madeira, and the Savoy proved this life-hacking approach to be viable. “It was already coming,” Danchuk says, “but this was the first time we lived it.”